Before Abraham Was, I Am

Open Your Bible

John 8:31-59, Exodus 3:1-15, Isaiah 45:22-25, Philippians 2:9-11

My sister and I hopped onto the genetic-testing train last year. For Christmas, we gave our parents test kits and joined over twelve million customers in search of our ancestry. We are a people fascinated by our origins, hungry for the past to shed light on our present.

Family heritage held deep, sacred meaning for ancient Jewish people as well. While the modern identity question is, “Who am I?”, the defining question of ancient Israel was, “Whose am I?” Just read the detailed genealogies in the Old Testament. From Abraham to Ruth to David—origins, birthrights, and family connections formed identity and destiny.

So, it’s no wonder that Jesus’s listeners confidently held out their status as Abraham’s descendants and flashed it as their badge of honor and worth. Yet this over-dependence on heritage was dangerous. It offered a false sense of security, a misguided sense of racial superiority, and spiritual blindness.

One of Jesus’s disciples, John, records how many Jews were in denial of their need for rescue. They would not accept Jesus’s controversial teaching, which told them that even they, God’s chosen people, were spiritually lost and in desperate need of a Savior. When told that the truth would set them free, they bristled and held up their heritage as proof of their right standing with God. They told Jesus, “We are Abraham’s descendants… and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33).

Jesus does more than poke holes in their heritage badges. He blasts the shaky ground they are standing on and reveals the true, firm foundation that provides the only way of salvation. Ancestry does not determine identity and destiny. But there is something—Someone—who does. And so Jesus answers them: “Truly I tell you, before Abraham was, I am” (v.58).

Boom! His Jewish challengers are no doubt shocked by His outrageous claims. How could this man say these things? Jesus is equating Himself with Yahweh, leaving no room for misunderstanding. This man from Nazareth has the audacity to echo the words of God, who spoke to Moses through a burning bush and revealed His own name, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). They know exactly what Jesus is claiming—that He, not a bloodline from Abraham, is the way of salvation and true freedom.

We, too, should be stunned, jolted by Jesus’s words. They are scandalous. But our family tree and our connections don’t define us. What we do, where we come from, who we associate with—none of these things can make us right with God. This is personal, and this is cosmic. We need a rescue from outside of ourselves, what theologian Martin Luther called an “alien righteousness.”

“For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—
and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11).

We do have a sure identity, which means we also have a sure destiny. The risen Christ defines us as beloved children of God, and we are destined to have a place around His table, dwelling with Him forever. He is our firm foundation. He is our righteousness. He sets us free.

Patti Sauls lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband Scott and daughters, Abby and Ellie, where they serve alongside the people of Christ Presbyterian Church. Prior to living in Nashville, the Sauls planted churches in Kansas City and Saint Louis and served at New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church. A trained speech therapist, Patti also enjoys serving behind the scenes, hiking with friends, and reading good books.

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64 thoughts on "Before Abraham Was, I Am"

  1. Jenny Horsley says:

    We too should be stunned by Jesus words. Thanks for the reminder of my destiny.

  2. Mercy says:

    This is so encouraging for me who is not of Jewish lineage, just an ordinary Gentile, but through faith could be drafted into the inheritance of Abraham. “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, and heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29). The ultimate authority of God’s word opens the door to those who were once not His people, but are now His people, who were once denied mercy, but now can obtain mercy and the noble position of sonship. The GREAT I AM is now my Abba, my daddy. No need for DNA test. You are His children and greatly loved. Glory to our generous and merciful God.

  3. Jessica Quin says:


  4. Melanie OLES-GRAHAM says:

  5. Sherry says:

    Our Heavenly Lord makes no mistakes
    So spreading us out and making us so different inside and out, that was no mistake. Abraham was a man of great quality and love for God. He was loyal, trusting and rightous. King David had many flawed qualities but great love for the Lord was it pure and true. He had committed terrible sin but his truth, love and full heartedly begging the Lord to forgive his for his sinful deed, he was redeemed. They are examples of men of different qualities that are meant for us to either follow his way of living or be inspired by his lesson of redemption and know we too can find redemption for ourselves. We can all be saved in our own way by truth and love though the heavenly father. BYW I just learned Jesus Christ is not actually the name of our savior that died for our sins. He was born Yeshua ben Yosef. Translates to Joshua son of Joseph. (we did not use J until the 1500s) Jesus comes from Yeshua translating to Hebrew, translating to Greek…changing of ua to us for an adverb to Christ. Which was a title bestowed on him after dead. Debates on exact translation the annointed one, the savior, son of God, the messiah… Goes to show you a person can study the Bible their whole life and still get it somethings wrong but his message is simply truth and love is worth saving. A person with these qualities can come from anywhere and the Bible is a guide to show us that it can be done.

  6. beth boudloche says:


  7. Kathleen K says:

    Prior to reading this – I was just thinking and getting anxious about teenage years down the road… wondering what the relationship between my husband and children would look like when things got difficult.. my husband experienced a very harsh relationship with his mom during his own teenage years. His family has also experienced several divorces. This scripture gives me a point of prayer – that we are not of the lineage of his family but of Christ’s. I will remember that before my husbands family .. Christ was.

  8. Jane says:

    I was interested by Amanda’s comments because, like her mother, I am adopted. Throughout my teenage years and particularly when I was growing our family, I wondered a lot about my heritage, my identity; it is the old nature versus nurture debate, all those ‘what if’ and ‘if only’ questions which can never really be answered unless, perhaps one starts searching and, even then, having opened Pandora’s box, so to speak – would all those questions be answered to one’s satisfaction?
    Ultimately we find our identity in Christ, as a child of God, a woman of the Word.
    Just recently, one of our daughters wanted to satisfy her curiosity and have one of these genetic tests, she kindly referred to me first before going ahead. My answer? Do it, if you feel you want to, but I have no interest in the results, I’m happy with who I am. It’s taken nearly 60 years but I have discovered that the answers lie at the cross and not on a birth certificate.

  9. Amanda Hollenbeck says:

    My mother is adopted and we’re always searching for more information about our ancestry and history on that side of the family, but we’ll never know the full truth until we get the paperwork in the mail because her adoption records are sealed. This used to upset me because I always wanted to know that side and wanted my mom to meet her mom. But my mom never really stressed about it, and I think that’s because she understands God has a plan for her and if this is the plan of never knowing, she accepts it. I think we both know now that we have delved deeper into our faith that we are both children of God and we trust in him more than anything else

  10. Shelby Moore says:

    In our lifegroup last night, we discussed how we cannot fully comprehend the Lord. We will never be able to understand Him, BUT I have hope in that I am HIS. I have a hard time believing that I’m a child of God, but this encouraged me to remember that I am HIS.

  11. Allison Sherwood says:

    Jesus played the ultimate trump card by surpassing Abraham, and made the Israelites question the value of their claim. I love this!

  12. Tree says:

    Sometimes I forget who I belong to. This was a powerful reminder that I am not my own that without Jesus I am nothing.

  13. A Green says:

    The element of today’s reading that has truly resonated with me is the passage where God brings the children of Israel out of the wilderness and into the land flowing with milk and honey. A year ago,
    I was in a job that fed on my soul and my psyche like a cancer. Following a tumultuous period with the company’s parent company, I and a number of my colleagues were either let go or went of our own accord. At the time, I was wrapped in uncertainty, convinced I would never work in corporate Britain again, fed up with the politics and the games and the oppressive environment. God led me to start my own business, to properly go it alone. I chose a business name involving bees – the city where I live has a rich history with bees. Upon reflection, I can see where God literally plucked me out of the wilderness of that soul destroying job and not only did he put me in a land flowing with milk and honey, it is my own land. God is so good!

  14. Shirley Nuñez says:

    This resonates so much with me. We’re not defined by our ancestors or where we come from. Our blood line does not determine who we are, Jesus does!

  15. Ashley Wurtz says:

    I think that it is beautiful to know the “whose I am,” from a family standpoint. I have learned though, that there are times that family ties fray due to life and emotions, it is during those times that knowing I am a child of God has brought me great peace.

  16. Jill Bos says:

    I am concerned that you say Jesus is not a bloodline of Abraham. He was Jewish. The saying in John 8 that he was a demon possessed Samaritan was the ultimate insult for a Jew.

    1. Lori Wat says:

      I know this from a long time ago, but the author was saying that Jesus – NOT a bloodline – is the way of salvation.

  17. Lydia Irby says:

    Some days, salvation is thankfully knowing heaven is my home. To be with the I am before Abraham was. Other days, salvation is strength for my daily living. He is the I Am Why and Because. The I am When and How. The I am Here. He is the Great I Am.

  18. Allison Sherwood says:

    I find it a relief that I belong to God’s heritage more than my own! Sure, I love to know what my grandparents and super great grandparents were up to, but I love that I have the choice to break generational habits! Praise and amen!

  19. Ashley Lewis says:

    Thank you for sharing this. Keep praying for your friend.

  20. Abby Wilson says:

    I was struck by how the Jewish people who were supposed to recognize Jesus, missed him. They didn’t see Him right in front of them! I don’t want to miss His presence or His teaching or leading.

  21. Kelsey Jones says:

    As a Christian who grew up getting drug to church it’s so important to remember that it’s not about where or how we grew up. Although I do recognize the importance now that I’m a mom, it’s so much more than your family but recognizing who He is in you. I want to raise my kids knowing that they are loved not because they are simply my children but Gods children as well. This is a great reminder of the value of our TRUE lineage in Him.

  22. Ashley White says:

    This was so good and as always, a great reminder to keep my priorities on track with Christ Jesus.

  23. Chelsea Adkins says:

    This study is so well written! That’s because it really allows Gods full and whole word and Jesus stand out in glory. I’m grateful for Patti’s faithfulness in writing this and her amazing efforts to bring such great truth into my life today. I’m grateful to God, and his precious word, and that he allows me to understand scripture by his Spirit and abundant grace!!!

  24. Ashley Searle says:

    I love that this study is going through and reminding us exactly who Christ is and who we are in Him. I have heard God trying to reach me lately through Scripture, music, family and friends. I have a one year old (my heart!), and I still have half of my baby weight. I hate not feeling like “me.” I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression most of my life, and I’ve struggled to have a healthy relationship with food and exercise on multiple occasions. Sisters, please pray for me. Pray that I can focus on Who Christ is and who I am in Him rather than who or what I wish I was.

    1. AnneLyn P says:

      Praying for you Ashley.

    2. Bethany Anne Robinson says:

      Ashley, postpartum body image is a challenging battle! How humble of you to seek the encouragement of your sisters in Christ! Remember that YOU are His. That is who you are, and the other details fall in line behind that defining truth. That truth then shapes everything else: because you are His, you can celebrate and care for the body He has given you; you can rejoice in His design to carry, birth, and nurture a child; you are free from any demands to be a certain way…I pray you are encouraged by the truth of being made in His image and being sustained by His grace. This podcast was a great encouragement to me. I hope it’s a helpful resource to you as well!

    3. Suzie McRae says:

      Saying prayer for u rn Ashley.

    4. Jessica Watt says:

      Postpartum season is hard Mama. Don’t ever let any voices about your identity be louder than the voice and words of God. You are you, created for God to glorify God. Love yourself by taking care of yourself; spiritually and physically. You are His and you are beautiful and blessed!

  25. Lisa says:

    I was struck this morning by the thought of identity. My husband’s family was very caught up in genealogy for a time and had been able to trace their roots way back to Charlemagne. I was adopted as an infant and had no idea where my roots were. Like Patti, I jumped at the chance to do the DNA testing, and while it was interesting (got a sense of “where”) I have no more information than I did before about the “who”. Today, I know that trying to find my identity outside of Christ is folly. “Ancestry does not determine identity and destiny” “our family tree and our connections don’t define us”. Thank God!!! My identity is wrapped up in I AM, my identity is daughter of THE KING.

    1. Suzie McRae says:


      1. Kathy NewellAllison says:

        Love love this

    2. Diane Burns says:

      Very well said and so true.

    3. Lina Adjogble says:

      AMEN!! Love this ❤

    4. Lois Cox says:

      He says in psalms that when my mother and father forsake me thou oh Lord will take me up! Also He places the solitary in families then in Isaiah He says that even if a mother should forsake her nursing child He will never forsake us! What a love and wonderful promise, even for those of us who know our parents. These scriptures have brought me much consolation throughout my long walk with Him! Blessings on you dear sister! You are so loved!

  26. Audrey Flores says:

    My grandma is concerned that I am no longer part of her faith. And my whole has put up walls so I feel unable to talk to them about the why or my relationship with Jesus. Some say it’s a cult. But I love that DESPITE that Jesus is with me and my foundation. He said, “I AM” because he simply is everything. While I’m still learning to full trust I am running towards Him because He is love and light.

    1. AnneLyn P says:

      Praying for you, Audrey. That isn’t easy but God is love and promises to never leave you or forsake you.

  27. Rebekah Johnson says:

    These passages were awesome for me as an adopted kid- always thinking back on my heritage and history. But rather I’m adopted into His Story…. thankful this morning that I know whose I am.

  28. Jajas says:

    Similar to Shawn, I am struck by the “AM” of Christ. He is never past or future tense but always here and now since the beginning of time. In the same way that Jesus was present for Abraham and for the flock throughout the gospels, he is also present for me today. His presence doesn’t change or falter. He just IS – so fully everywhere at every moment.

  29. Maura says:

    Such good the Word of God. I love that Jesus tells us Who He is throughout the New Testament to leave no doubt that He is I am, the Good Shepherd, the Truth, the Bread of Life, the Word, the Way, the Life, one with the Father. Over and over He reveals who He is and His love for us. May my life be about your glory and revelation Lord even when I fail and fall Lord Jesus I know it is you who picks me up and holds me up. Praise be to your name.

    1. Leisa Larson says:

      Amen! My heart resonates with this so much, Maura. Praise God for another day, full of His grace and mercies, to reflect Him to a hurting world.

  30. Kelly Chataine says:

    Love the Lord Our God with all our hearts, souls, and minds (might).
    Love your neighbor as yourself. (Who is our neighbor? Everyone we encounter)

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we followed those commands? Have you ever wanted to do something for someone but you didn’t know what to do? Well, we all want to please our Heavenly King and He has told us exactly what He wants!

    Let it begin with me!

  31. Joanne de Graaf says:

    My heart is filled with thankfulness after reading these verses. ‘They picked up stones to throw at Him’ and still after all the hate, Jesus saved them on the cross. Overwhelming how loving Jesus is and how much mercy he shows to them and to me because I am no better than those jews and He saved me. ‘Every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord” (Philippians 2:11)

  32. Churchmouse says:

    I was informed that I was going to hell. My friend was serious. I had left the “one true church” , had turned my back on the faith in which I had “been born into” and in which I had been “baptized as an infant.” These were her criteria, her proof, of where I belonged. It mattered not that I loved Jesus, that I had a personal relationship with Him, that I studied His Word diligently or that I attended a Bible – believing church. I had walked away from my parents’religion, had chosen to be baptized as an adult, professing my own faith and this was, according to her, why I was destined for eternal damnation. But I knew the Truth and it had set me free. One does not inherit religion by human birth and one does not become a Christian by sitting in a church. I could stand in my garage all day and that would not make me a car. I tried to explain the Reason for my faith, the joy I have in Christ, but she sadly shook her head and walked away, telling me she could no longer be my friend. That was a hard day. A sad day. Perhaps this was how Jesus felt when He spoke with the Jews who held so tightly to their lineage that they were missing the very Messiah for whom their religion searched. Jesus’ statement was a mic drop. It was for my friend and it was for the Jews. My friend walked away. The Jews picked up stones. Their reactions do not negate or minimize the Truth. The Truth remains the Truth and I AM WHO I AM remains sovereign. May I be faithful in keeping all my faith and trust in Him and nothing else.

    1. Janet C says:

      Thank you for sharing your story.

    2. Olivia Watts says:

      Praise God!!!

    3. Riley MacDonald says:

      What an incredible testimony. I can only imagine how hard it was for you to lose a friend that day, but what an incredible eternity you gained. Thank you for sharing!

    4. Laura Theobald says:

      I’m always fascinated by Christians who say other Christians are going to hell because they don’t believe in the ‘right’ denomination. When I read my Bible, I see a God who so loved everyone on the earth that he sent his son so that all of us could be in relationship with him. Jesus came to unite the nations under God, and us sinful humans want to separate ourselves over doctrinal differences. Personally, I think God wants all of us with Him, so he only cares about what is in our hearts and not what building we spent our Sunday’s.

    5. AnneLyn P says:

      Appreciate you sharing your story. God is good.

    6. Chelsea Adkins says:

      Amen! Xxx that you for sharing this story, I have gained so much encouragement from hearing about your faith in God. Thank you!

    7. Angie Guimaray says:

      Wow. Thanks for sharing that.

    8. Kelsey Jones says:

      This is so so good!

    9. Sherry Archer says:

      Praise God!! Old rituals kill faith and the Spirit of our Lord and Savior!!

    10. Marysa Grondin says:


    11. Lina Adjogble says:


    12. Amy Kane says:

      Way to stand strong! I’m proud to call you a sister in Christ! It’s hard to walk away from a friend, but ultimately Jesus is most important!

    13. Sarah Pond says:

      I’m so sorry that that happened to you. It must’ve been very painful, but take heart you are a strong force in the kingdom!

    14. Lois Cox says:


    15. Christina MarieHempill says:

      You are His and always have been His. Before the beginning of time. There is nothing that can separate you from the love of the father!
      Those words spoken by your friend must have hurt and no doubt stick with you. But those words are lies. Not the truth. Praying God continues to grow deep roots of the truth of Whose you are- His. That that unroots any insecurity or hurt. Praying you have the ability to forgive her because He is the ultimate judge who makes all things right in the end.

    16. Fiona Cockburn says:

      You are an absolute blessing to many people on this site, and your wisdom points us all to Christ. Thank you.

  33. Angie says:

    The I AM WHO I AM account of God in scripture is my favorite.
    HE IS,
    Everything and more than my human brain can even fathom,

    This morning God also reminded me, from the Exodus account with the burning bush, that Moses was doing what he did every day, shepherding the flock for his father-in-law. Moses saw the bush burning was not consumed, and thought, “Hmm, I should check this out.” And the ordinary, became holy.

    Lord as I go into this ordinary day, give me eyes to see You aflame, that your fire would be hot, blazing, light, not consuming your creation but drawing me nearer to You. Open my mind and direct me to what You want me to “check out.” May the ground my feet touch be holy unto You. And I pray, Lord I pray, that today all whom I come into contact with, would see You, I AM WHO I AM, and know You are LORD. May I live and love people in You. I pray LORD that those in bondage would be set free. For You are God and there is no other!

    1. Janet C says:


    2. Debbie Mace says:


  34. Shawn Parks says:

    I love the “AM” of Christ. He is present in the present! How can I not go confidently into the next minute because when I arrive, He is already there? He is the now and reminds me that I must learn to live fully in Him in the same moment where He is—not push Him into the future when I have prepared myself to be with Him, nor made a convenient place for Him in my schedule, nor wait until I am moved by my fickle emotions to experience Him-but now, in the dark, in my messy morning, still unsettled about where this day will lead-My Lord is here, is love, is personal, is strength, is constant, is truth, is power, is my precious Savior. How humbling to be in the presence of “AM” when I sense Him but especially when I don’t. His peace covers me! Thank you, for Your Word which is present and eternal!